1. The computer screen flashes like a strobe. Looks like it’s from Microsoft (the logo looks legit). “Warning: you must not log out or turn off.” That’s exactly what I should be doing, but don’t.
2. I call the suggested number. A woman answers, pretends to be Microsoft, takes my computer away, runs programs. “A Trojan horse virus in your bank accounts.”
“I’ll connect you to your bank on a secure line,” she said, “because your phone may be compromised.”
3. The main scammer, who is posing as an “agent” of my bank and who will be on the line for the next three hours, says: “There has been a large charge on your credit card, and you have authorized it. »
“No, I didn’t.”
“But we emailed you earlier today regarding the fee, and you responded with permission.”
I check my email. They did not do it.
“Oh, that means the scammers have stolen your identity and gained access to your email.”
4. The bank “agent” assures me that he is doing everything possible to prevent me from losing the sums.
“I want to go to my bank to confirm this,” I said.
“Oh no. The only person at your local branch who can handle it is gone for the day. Do exactly as I say, or you’ll lose all that money.
5. He explains to me that to prevent the transfer of the money at midnight to the “authorized” debits, I must buy “dummy gift cards” with my credit card, then read him the identifiers and PIN codes in order to that he can deposit the sums in a new account for me at the bank. Its urgency obliterates my knowledge that credit card charges, unlike debit card charges, are instantaneous.
“Don’t tell anyone what you’re really doing. Suppose you have big family events coming up and you need several large gift cards. If your card receives a “denied” notice and you need to speak to the bank’s credit card company to have it lifted, I will put you in touch. Don’t tell them what you’re doing – use the same story about needing lots of family gifts.
I’m so bamboozled that the absurdity doesn’t register: my bank orders me to lie to traders and to itself.
6. “The agent” clearly has a Google map. He sends me to a nearby national department store to purchase 10 $1,000 gift cards. The sale is refused.
I walk out to ask the “agent” what to do (he warned me never to talk to him overhearing from a store employee). As he puts me in touch with the credit card agent, a store manager comes and says, “We can’t make such a sale. Do you know there is a scam? Does anyone tell you to do this?
I’ve lied before about why I’m buying the cards and, I’m thinking, “How could this be a scam if I’m following my bank’s instructions?” So, I lie again: “No one is telling me to do this.”
7. Thwarted at national store, “agent” directs me to local stores. I don’t have to buy their own gift cards, but cards from one or more of the five national brands. These stores have daily limits on gift card sales, so even though they’re skeptical, they accept my lie about why I need them.
8. At three stores, I collect six $500 gift cards from two national companies. After each of the three purchases, I communicate to the “agent” the identifiers and the PIN codes. Of course, he immediately transfers the funds to something very different from the “account” he said he would open “for me”.
9. At this point you say, “How could you not see what was going on?” »
I’ve asked myself this question dozens of times. There’s something about the way delirium feeds on itself – a kind of addiction. These scammers get into your head, inducing frenzy, panic. They have a rejoinder for each question. When I periodically ask, “Why can’t I tell the credit card agent why I’m doing this?” I’m told, “Oh, we’re separate departments at the bank, and we don’t share information.”
10. Finally (and thankfully before I go any further), a store manager brings me a handwritten note of warning. This casts my suspicions: maybe all is not as it seems. I stop driving (the “agent” assures me that the next stop gift card limit is $5,000), drive home, get little sleep.
11. The next day I go to the bank and find out it was all a scam. I call the police.
12. The Diabolical: By convincing me I’m a victim of identity theft, scammers make me their thief.
13. Scam, from start to finish. The Federal Trade Commission knows this (https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/gift-card-scams). Traders know this. Banks know this. I – sadder (and poorer) but wiser – know it.
Now you know that too.
— So says Patrick Henry, retired executive director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Collegeville. His website is www.IronicChristian.org. His column is published the first Sunday of the month.